How Power Makes People Selfish

September 29, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs

So there are regions of the frontal lobes that are
now being called the empathy network and those regions of the
brain do a lot of things, but what one of the things that they do is they can help us detect other people’s
pain when you damaged in the empathy networks of
your brain, which some people, do they become really
impulsive and you can have people who were really good citizens of
the world, right? And if they have this head trauma and little chunks of the frontal lobes are gone they’ll start wearing suddenly, they’ll
start yelling at their kids, they feel disconnected. In the
neuroscience literature they call this “acquired sociopathy” – through brain
trauma you become a sociopath and our lab studies find if you give people
a little bit of power they kind of look like those brain trauma patients, right? So we find
like, if I feel powerful, I flirt
inappropriately, I am more likely at work to swear or act in
a rude fashion, I’m more likely to gamble. It makes you
impulsive. When you feel powerful you kind of lose touch with other people. You stop attending carefully to what
other people think. In our lab its come to be known as
the Cookie Monster study. We brought three people to the lab. We
pointed to one person and said, “you’re in charge,” right? And that person kind of felt
powerful and then they had to do this really
boring task of, like, writing policy for the University. And they’re getting kinda bored. We bring a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Everybody takes
one cookie. All groups always leave one cookie on the plate because you don’t want to be
that person that takes the last cookie. So there’s that fourth cookie and we find high-powered people they reach out and take it. And then my
grad student, Dan Ward at the time, he came to me and is like, “I think people are
eating differently when they have power.” and lo and behold our high-powered person is more
likely to be with their mouth open, lips-smacking, crumbs literally like falling onto their sweaters…(laughs)… It’s ridiculous!